Saturday, 16 February 2008


"It creates appetites that should not exist, it stimulates cravings that should never be satisfied."—Tony Parsons, columnist.

JOHN never intended to become addicted to 'Internet sex.'* Like many other people who are accidentally exposed to pornography and sex chat rooms, he was using the Internet one day when he stumbled upon a site offering such chat rooms. Soon, he was completely absorbed in cybersex. "I would wait for my wife to go to work," he remembers, "hop out of bed and spend hours in front of the computer."

During marathon sessions, he would not even stop to eat or drink. "I had no awareness of [being] hungry," he says. He began to lie to his wife about his secret activities. It started to affect his concentration at work, and he became more and more paranoid. His marriage began to suffer, and when he finally arranged to meet one of his cybersex partners in real life, his wife became aware of it. Today John is being treated for his addiction.

Antipornography activists point to stories like this as proof of the degrading effects of pornography. It destroys relationships, they claim, demeans women, abuses children, and engenders a perverted and harmful view of sex. On the other hand, supporters defend pornography as free expression and view the detractors as prudish. "People should not be ashamed of their sexual orientation or desires," writes one proponent. "Pornography can be used to start and stimulate open discussions about sex."

A few even suggest that the proliferation of pornography is the hallmark of an open, healthy society. "A society mature enough to cope with the explicit depiction of sex between consenting adults is likely to be one comfortable with sexual diversity and women's equality," says writer Brian McNair.

Does society's ambivalence make pornography acceptable? Why is it so widespread? Is pornography really a dangerous pursuit?

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